Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Remembering your Mentors

I was recently working with a customer who had ran into someone I had mentored years ago, and expressed how great I was as a mentor.

Of course, we all love hearing that, but it made me think of not only others I've mentored, but those that have mentored me.

The first mentor I remember was while working at the Dakota Clinic in Fargo, ND.  I was still in school, but for this 9 weeks we all were supposed to take an unpaid internship.  We went through the interview process and everything, and each company got to choose who they hired.

There were really only two places that I wanted to work.  The first was the Dakota Clinic, and the next as at an elevator nearby the school.  Luckily, I got the gig at the Clinic.  It was the white whale of internships for our class of about 15 people.

I hadn't been exposed much to the AS/400 and RPG before that time.  We had done a little RPG programming in school, actually more with COBOL.  Before that I was self-taught with BASIC, and had taken other courses in Modula-II, Pascal, C, etc.

The Clinic shop was an AS/400 RPG shop.  I really didn't care for the language then.  (This was back in the V2Rxx days).  Fixed format, indicators, yuck.  But it quickly grew on me when I saw how productive it really was in real world situations.

It was while working at this job that I met my first and probably most important mentor.  Her name was Julie.  I remember watching her type commands on the command line from memory, without prompting, and thinking "how the heck can anyone do that?".

I also remember the day she wanted me to update the main screen for admissions into the clinic.  Super easy change, especially using SDA.

I made the change, compiled the display file, and moved it live.

Suddenly, Julie's phone rang.  I was oblivious to the issue, until she quietly fixed the problem and came to my desk and explained to me how level checks work.  I was scared, she was professional and understanding.  Instead of chewing me a new one, she professionally fixed the problem, then explained to me what I had done wrong.

I've had other mentors in my life as well.  But none of them did I get to make such a foolish mistake with.  Julie had taught me enough that most of my positions after that I was able to assimilate into the groups with little or no fuss.

I did have one other mentor, Brian, who was a mentor in the sense that he challenged me.

He was leaving for a trip to a company off-site.  There had been an issue with the PO program for years that he couldn't track down.  As he left work to go to the airport, I remember him telling me "if you find this problem before I get back, I'll buy you lunch."

As he waited to board his plane a couple hours later, his phone rang.  Yes, it was me.  I had solved the problem.  All I needed was that little push from a mentor and I was in high gear.  I explained what was wrong.  It was a very obscure issue, buried in the code, but once I was able to recreate it, I was able to fix it.  Recreating the problem took the longest in this case.

I guess my point of this post is, remember your mentors.  And try to be a mentor to others, using the same good qualities you remember from your past.